Dark Tea Comes Out Of The Shadows

Zang Cha - Gan Hong (1)

Today we’re chatting with Zhen Lu and Phil Rushworth of Zhen Tea about a category of tea that’s not widely understood outside of China or even within China, and that’s heicha, or “dark tea”, hailing from outside the pu erh region. You may remember Zhen and Phil from our earlier episode “Lapsang Souchong – Beyond the Smoke”, and today we’re chatting at the Zhen Tea headquarters in Ottawa, Canada. 

Now pu erh (at least shu pu erh) is a dark tea, and plenty of people know plenty about pu erh. But the many wonderful non-pu erh dark teas don’t enjoy the same celebrity status as pu erh, and those teas are what we’re focusing on in this episode. (We’re intentionally avoiding the highly controversial issue of whether sheng pu erh is properly called heicha, which could be a topic for an entire episode on its own.)

Zhen and Phil carry a varied selection of dark teas, and they chat with us about the sometimes confusing nomenclature of heicha, its somewhat murky history, its regions of origin and terroir, and “wet piling”, the fermentation process that makes heicha unique among all teas. We sample and discuss two dark teas – an aged Fu Zhuan from 2013, and a new experimental take on traditional Tibetan tea – as we talk about the variations of flavor and mouthfeel in non-pu erh dark teas, how the flavors differ from typical shu pu erh flavor profiles, and how these variations are influenced by terroir and growing conditions. Zhen and Phil also brief us on some of the innovations we’re beginning to see in heicha and the delicacy and difficulty of the wet-piling process, and we talk about the relaxing, almost meditative, physical and mental sensations many of us experience with heicha. Zhen also gives us some tips on storing dark teas at home.

More on Zhen Tea, including its teas, teaware, online store and new online magazine Charen, is at zhentea.ca.

Talking Tea is produced and hosted by Ken Cohen. You can follow Ken on Twitter @kensvoiceken.   

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The views and opinions expressed by guests on Talking Tea are those of the guests and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of Talking Tea or its staff.

This podcast features music from “Japanese Flowers” (https://soundcloud.com/mpgiii/japanese-flowers) by mpgiiiBEATS (https://soundcloud.com/mpgiii) available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/). Adapted from original.

Photo of Zang Cha-Gan Hong courtesy of Zhen Tea.

Header image “Raw Puerh mid 1980 Menghai” by Cosmin Dordea, used under a Creative Commons CC By-SA 2.0 license. Adapted from original.

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